Meet Samantha Thornton and Sonita Leng-Cole: volunteer surf lifesavers at Alexandra Headland Surf Life Saving Club and Australian Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) champions. Samantha and Sonita, aged 27 and 23 respectively, joined Nippers at a young age and have been competing together in the IRB Championships for five seasons, achieving gold and silver medal places at state and national level.
A momentous time for the women was in 2015 – their first year competing as a team – when they won gold in the mass rescue race at the Australian IRB Championships. They also placed fourth at the 2018 Lifesaving World Championships for both the Interclub Female IRB Mass Rescue and Interclub Female IRB Rescue events.
The women, however, explained that IRB competitions are about more than delivering action packed events – they play an important role in helping surf lifesavers develop and enhance their skills so they can protect beachgoers.
“IRBs are vital pieces of rescue equipment that require skill to operate in the dynamic surf environment,” Samantha said. “The competitions run throughout the winter and enable both drivers and crews to develop their skills and awareness in the boat. It’s a sport that requires team work, and brings us together in the winter months as we travel around Queensland to test our skills and train rigorously to better our abilities for the upcoming patrol season.”
Sonita explained that competitors were required to spend a minimum of 20 hours in an IRB prior to the competition season in a wide range of surf conditions.
“Generally, as a surf lifesaver, the worse the conditions are, the more likely it is that something will go wrong, so these are the conditions we should be most prepared and ready for.”
She explained that surf lifesaving equipment costs money to maintain, which is only possible because of generous public donations.
“Alongside the other equipment, it is vital to ensure all aspects of an IRB are safe and in perfect working order so that we can help people where we need to at the beach,” she said.
Commenting on the reasons she enjoys being part of the Surf Life Saving community, Samantha pointed to the training and development opportunities available.
“I believe that you should always try to keep learning in life and there is a remarkably wide range of opportunities for you to choose from in the Surf Life Saving community,” she said.
Samantha added that she believed there was a place in Surf Life Saving for everyone: “The people is what makes our organisation great and there is a place for everyone to help keep this legacy moving forever.”